Breaking Free of Work as Prison … Finally!

by | Oct 5, 2022 | blog | 0 comments

Just last week, President Joe Biden told the world the pandemic is over. I think he may have overstated his argument a bit, but I do think his words are the starting pistol of a new awareness in the western world. How we work is changing dramatically … and I couldn’t be happier. 

Hearing about “quiet quitting” and “the great resignation” actually gives me goosebumps. 

As a leader or manager, I know this is exactly the opposite of what you need to do your job — but in the greater scheme of things, I’m delighted with all this upheaval. It’s high time the traditional Protestant “work ethic” that has been ingrained into generation after generation, here in the US especially, gets packed into its time capsule, padlocked securely, and the key thrown into the ocean. Its time has passed.

To look at “work” now as transformational instead of transactional — as fulfilling instead of depleting — is refreshing. This aligns with the deeper, wiser part of us that always thought “work” was — as an old Syracuse Cultural Workers poster I once had in my first office said, “Work is Prison”. I hung that poster 35 years ago, and the sentiment still rocks me to my core.  

As we move through the Covid pandemic (of course it’s not over, Joe!), our youngest and smartest people are saying ENOUGH. Enough with work being a 50-year prison sentence.  Enough with a traditional hierarchy based on white privilege and patriarchy, based on one-upping each other, and based on bosses and subordinates. Enough of humans being resources. Enough of a paradigm that dictates that being successful means trading half our lives being told what to do, how to do it, and why we’re doing it.

Malcolm Gladwell says it best: “Hard work is a prison sentence only if it does not have meaning. Once it does, it becomes the kind of thing that makes you grab your wife around the waist and dance a jig.”

I’m a cock-eyed optimist when it comes to work. I believe we can dance that jig now jiggier than ever! We can come together with diverse identities, beliefs, values, skills, and expertise to CREATE — not to work. To create widgets, experiences, and outcomes that pay the bills … and fill the soul. I’ve always believed that and it’s the basis of how I work with my clients, whether individuals, teams, or organizations, striving for joy in the creation of happiness. And the thing is, it’s not impossible anymore. The world is opening up new definitions for how we spend our time to pay the bills. We’re at this junction of the knowledge economy and the fulfillment economy where we can design our lives, instead of our lives designing us.

So, the challenge for us as people-leaders and managers is to up the ante on our engagement and culture-building strategies lest we lose our people to the new world beckoning them to be fulfilled and happy. No longer can we count on “teambuilding” and “forced fun” to keep our folks engaged and productive. Now we have to work on OURSELVES to be the best ushers and ambassadors for the new paradigm. Millennials are coming to our doors, but they won’t step one foot into our houses until we clean them up — and that starts with ourselves. We need to be the kind of boss everyone wants to work for.

Ask yourself …

  • Are you vulnerable and humble as a leader? Do you share openly with your people, not only your strengths but also the AFGOs (Another Friggin’ Growth Opportunity) in your work and life?

  • Do you prioritize the art of feedback — how to give it and receive it effectively — not only for yourself but for your people as well?

  • Do you think in terms of the systems in your workplace? Not the technical systems, but the social systems – i.e., how people get the work done THROUGH and WITH each other.

  • When you bring new people on, do you acclimate them to the culture and expectations of the work they’ll be doing and make sure to include your expectation that they are clear with you in their own strengths and AFGOs?

  • Do you do everything you can to move away from complaint, which falls on fallow ground, to commitment which plants the seeds of transformation? Are you able to reframe your own complaining to instead be clear on which of your deeply held personal values are not being satisfied? Language makes all the difference!

I’d like to suggest that you also get familiar with Positive Intelligence® (PQ) as a framework for the new workplace and the kind of relationship-building you can do now. The PQ framework says “Your mind is your best friend. But it can also be your worst enemy.” PQ says that with work, we can tame our “saboteurs” (those negative emotions and thinking) and grow our “sage powers” (positive thinking and emotions).

In fact, the above questions are just a slice of what we need to do to start creating a work environment that stimulates the 5 Sage Powers of the Positive Intelligence framework. Here they are.

  1. Empathy
  2. Innovate
  3. Explore
  4. Navigate 
  5. Activate

These 5 Sage Powers, when cultivated in ourselves, can easily spill over into the important relationships we have with the folks who work for us. There is a domino effect that we can lean into for creating the workplace of today. Without getting into too much of the nitty-gritty of each of the powers, suffice to say that the Sage power of empathy is first for very good reasons! This is not just empathy for others (which, by the way, is not to be confused with sympathy) but is also empathy for ourselves and empathy for the very circumstances that we find ourselves in. Not easy tasks … but so worthwhile to pursue and nourish.

The remaining 4 Sage Powers support creativity, connection and action, and spilling over from EMPATHY, together they are unstoppable for crafting the workplace of today — one that values fulfillment of the soul rather than fulfillment of the work order. I hope you’ll check them out in the book, Positive Intelligence, by the brilliant Shirzad Chamine. Also, the next time I offer the PQ Bootcamp course (a 7-week app-guided course working with me and a small pod of people), I hope you’ll look closely at it. It’s well worth the investment.

In spite of a world that is changing and challenging all around us, there’s good reason to be optimistic for the future of work. Finally, after a century of industrialization and working for others with no self-empathy for growth and self-actualization, we are on the path of leveraging what really maximizes our bottom lines. We are finally seeing that personal and professional happiness are both possible, needed, and interdependent — and the real gift and opportunity for these overwhelming times. This paradigm shift is well deserved and a reason for celebration. Finally, we are breaking free of the prison of work.

About Danny

With over 20 years experience in training and leadership development  — and holding an MBA and an MA in Organizational Development — Danny Ceballos has worked with organizations across the country to strengthen their effectiveness in leading and managing others through supervision+motivation best practices and strategies.